Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Mighty One has done great things Luke 1:39-55

Thoughts on Luke for Advent 4C

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name. Luke 1:49. NRSV

A young woman was the first to speak these words praising of God. An angle came and told her don't be afraid. The angle came with news. She was going to have a child. Human logic says that things aren't supposed to be this way. She was only engaged and some how now she was pregnant. The angel told her not to be afraid. Mary heard the news and accepted it. She embraced this new child within her as a part of God's plan.

Today we remember, celebrate, and believe because of what God did in Mary's life, what God has done in our lives and because God will do even more in the days to come.

We who have been saved by God's grace through faith have real privileges. We get to praise God in worship and serve him as redeemed people in a broken world. We are privileged because we are free to live and love and we have not earned our salvation and can never hope to earn it. We are saved by faith. Today we raise our voices in thanks and praise with Mary the Mother of Jesus

My partner in Ministry encouraged me to look at Luther some for this 4th week in Advent. Martin Luther wrote at great length about Mary's words in a commentary on the Magnificat he presented to his protector the Duke of Saxony and that he published for all Saxony in 1521. Martin Luther wrote of Mary's words of faith and praise. He wrote,

Now, in all of Scripture I do not know anything that serves such a purpose so well as this sacred hymn of the most blessed Mother of God, which ought indeed to be learned and kept in mind by all who would rule well and be helpful lords. In it she really sings sweetly about the fear of God, what sort of Lord He is, and especially what His dealings are with those of low and high degree. Let someone else listen to his love singing a worldly ditty; this pure virgin well deserves to be heard by a prince and lord, as she sings him her sacred, chaste, and salutary song. It is a fine custom, too, that this canticle is sung in all the churches daily at vespers, and in a special and appropriate setting that sets it apart from the other chants.1

Luther listened closely. He heard a song of love and worship, hope and trust. Luther heard Mary sing in praise because God has and is:

  1. Showing Mercy

  2. Breaking Spiritual Pride

  3. Putting Down the Mighty

  4. Exalting the Lowly

  5. He has filled the hungry with good things, and

  6. the rich He has sent empty away.

Showing Mercy

Luther wrote:

He is merciful to all who are ready to do without their own opinion, right, wisdom, and all spiritual goods, and willing to be poor in spirit. These are the ones who truly fear God, who count themselves not worthy of anything, be it ever so small, and are glad to be naked and bare before God and man; who ascribe whatever they have to His pure grace, bestowed on the unworthy; who use it with praise and fear and thanksgiving, as though it belonged to another, and who seek not their own will, desire, or honor, but His alone to whom it belongs.2

Breaking Down Spiritual Pride

Luther explained simply,

There is the fullness of God’s power and His outstretched arm. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins, provided faith is present and waits on Him. And when the oppression comes to an end, it becomes manifest what great strength was hidden underneath the weakness. Even so, Christ was powerless on the cross; and yet there He performed His mightiest work and conquered sin, death, world, hell, devil, and all evil. Thus all the martyrs were strong and overcame. Thus, too, all who suffer and are oppressed overcome. Therefore it is said in Joel 3:10: “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’ ”—yet in faith, and without feeling it until it is accomplished.

On the other hand, God lets the other half of mankind become great and mightily to exalt themselves. He withdraws His power from them and lets them puff themselves up in their own power alone. For where man’s strength begins, God’s strength ends. When their bubble is fullblown, and everyone supposes them to have won and overcome, and they themselves feel smug in their achievement, then God pricks the bubble, and it is all over. The poor dupes do not know that even while they are puffing themselves up and growing strong they are forsaken by God, and God’s arm is not with them. Therefore their prosperity has its day, disappears like a bubble, and is as if it had never been. 3

Putting Down the Mighty

Luther explained that Mary was seeing the world as it trully is. It is God world and not ours. God is not destroying the world by sending Jesus. God is reordering it.

Mary does not say He breaks the seats, but He casts the mighty from their seats. Nor does she say He leaves those of low degree in their low degree, but He exalts them. For while the world stands, authority, rule, power, and seats must remain. But God will not long permit men to abuse them and turn them against Him, inflict injustice and violence on the godly, and enjoy it, boast of them, and fail to use them in the fear of God, to His praise and in defense of righteousness. We see in all histories and in experience that He puts down one kingdom and exalts another, lifts up one principality and casts down another, increases one people and destroys another; as He did with Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, though they thought they would sit in their seats forever. Nor does He destroy reason, wisdom, and right; for if the world is to go on, these things must remain. But He does destroy pride and the proud, who use these things for selfish ends, enjoy them, do not fear God, but persecute the godly and the divine right by means of them, and thus abuse the fair gifts of God and turn them against Him.4

Exalting the Lowly

Luther looked closely and saw God's mercy again being revealed as the humble are brought up.

Never the less those who are willing to be nothing and lowly of heart, and do not strive to be great, are truly humble. Now, when He exalts them, it does not mean that He will put them in the seats of those He has cast out any more than that when He shows mercy to those who fear Him, He puts them in the place of the learned, that is, the proud. Rather He lets them be exalted spiritually and in God, and be judges over seats and power and all might, here and hereafter; for they have more knowledge than all the learned and the mighty. How this is done was said above under the first work and need not be repeated. All this is said for the comfort of the suffering and for the terror of the tyrants, if we only had faith enough to believe that it is true.5

He has filled the hungry and sent the rich away empty

Our faith is built on hope of things we haven't seen. Luther understood that the world isn't always as it seems. He wrote, judge according to the outward appearance; therefore they often err.

These works are done in secret, like those mentioned above, so that no one is aware of them until they have come to an end. A rich man is not aware how really empty and wretched he is until he comes to die or otherwise suffers loss. Then only does he see how all his goods were altogether nothing, as it is said in Psalm 76:5: “They sank into sleep (that is, they died); all the rich men discovered that they had nothing in their hands.” On the other hand, the hungry and thirsty know not how filled with good things they are until they come to the end. Then they find the words of Christ true, in Luke 6:21: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they shall be filled”; and the comforting promise of the Mother of God here: “He has filled the hungry with good things.”6

Mary's hymn is a great way to start the Christmas celebration. Rejoice and give thanks in all the Great things God has done. Merry Christmas.

1Martin Luther, vol. 21, Luther's Works, Vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ( ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan et al.;, Luther's Works Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1956), Lk 1:46. page 298

2 Ibid Luke 1:51 Page 338

3 Ibid Luke 1:52 Page 340

4 Ibid Luke 1:53 Page 344

5 Ibid Luke 1:53 Page 345

6 Ibid Luke 1:54.Page 346

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